Locals always timed their walk past the sculptor’s studio for when the heat from the oxy-acetylene torch caused him to open the door. The current project, ‘Tommy’, was shrouded in secrecy but, with its hard steel construction, a warrior seemed a likely subject.
“It might be a brave redcoat who offered no more than a cross as signature,” they said. “He would go to war as Tommy despite the tears of his mother for William or Madison or James. Or It could be Thomas Atkins; that’s what Wellington called a fearless private who told him dying was all in a day’s work. The rusted-finish metal Ray is using would suit one of the Iron Duke’s soldiers.”
Subsequent spying missions disproved their guesses as the sculptor wrought his magic on his rectangles of steel, welding the plates into curves and straights. It became clear from the ‘tin’ hat, rifle and shoulder bag that this was a generic English ‘Tommy’ from the trenches of Verdun. Now they envisaged a strong, rugged statue, standing tall and proud.
With time the man of steel’s stance changed. The march-strengthened legs, in puttee leggings above strong boots, splayed out. The flaps of the greatcoat parted, and what they thought would be a plinth was a kit box seat. Then the plates forming the back started to bend over. What was going on? A hand flopped listlessly over one knee, the head bowed, the hat brim hiding the expression of the face of this everyman soldier as he looked down. Was it dejection, or disillusionment?
January 1919. Thomas Watson pulled a smoke out of his kitbag, and looked out to sea in his hometown, Seaham. wondering if the welcome from his family would be echoed by the girl whose photograph he still clutched. His only feeling since November was of numbness, but not enough to quell the memories of lost comrades. Too nervous to walk the final yards to the village yet, he sat down, head in hands, and stared at the ground. He didn’t feel like a man of steel, rather of marshmallow.